All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend Of Molly Johnson
Leah Purcell
Penguin Random House AUS
2019, 288p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Deep in the heart of Australia’s high country, along an ancient, hidden track, lives Molly Johnson and her four surviving children, another on the way. Husband Joe is away months at a time droving livestock up north, leaving his family in the bush to fend for itself. Molly’s children are her world, and life is hard and precarious with only their dog, Alligator, and a shotgun for protection – but it can be harder when Joe’s around.

At just twelve years of age Molly’s eldest son Danny is the true man of the house, determined to see his mother and siblings safe – from raging floodwaters, hunger and intruders, man and reptile. Danny is mature beyond his years, but there are some things no child should see. He knows more than most just what it takes to be a drover’s wife.

One night under the moon’s watch, Molly has a visitor of a different kind – a black ‘story keeper’, Yadaka. He’s on the run from authorities in the nearby town, and exchanges kindness for shelter. Both know that justice in this nation caught between two worlds can be as brutal as its landscape. But in their short time together, Yadaka shows Molly a secret truth, and the strength to imagine a different path.

This is a reimagining of a Henry Lawson short story – I’ve never read Henry Lawson so I wasn’t really familiar with it. But Leah Purcell has adapted it into a play, this novel and also a movie which was supposed to be released this year, although I’d imagine a lot of things will have been put on hold due to the recent events of the world.

Molly Johnson is a woman about 40, a “drover’s wife” – her husband Joe Johnson spends a large portion of the year away, moving livestock around. Molly doesn’t mind that – life is easier when Joe isn’t around. He returns bringing supplies and often leaves her pregnant. For Molly, her four children (and now one almost arrived) are everything. Her mother died giving birth to her so she grew up without that maternal love and now Molly lavishes her children with it, whilst also making sure that they grow up smart and savvy to the dangers around them. Danny is her eldest at 12, almost a man now (in the time). Given my child is 12 in about a month, this is hard to reconcile, that a child of this age would be considered old enough to go out droving or earn a living some other way. Danny is a smart and thoughtful boy, good with his younger siblings and helpful to Molly. She’s told him she’ll need him when the baby comes – she’s getting older and this one may not be so easy.

When I started this, I didn’t expect the story to skew off in several different directions. As well as Molly, we also get the story of Nate and Louisa, a married couple coming from England to Australia to live. Nate was injured in South Africa and was relegated to desk duty after that but in Australia he will be in charge of the town of Everton, which is the closest town to where Molly Johnson’s shack is located. There’s also some history of the establishment of the town, such as information on prominent families who settled the area (wealthy Brits) and some of their interactions with the local Indigenous people.

This book shows a harsh life, for most of the characters. Molly just barely gets by, there are times when she and the children go hungry, when the supplies have dwindled to nothing. She lives very isolated, although was brought up by her father to know how to take care of herself. Her life revolves around her children – her father made the match with Joe when he was dying even though Molly was just 16 and Joe in his 30s. He’s not kind – he drinks and gets violent when he’s had too much. But Molly endures all he dishes out and protects her children as best she can from his temper. She lives for the day he takes off north, droving again and leaves her alone with her children, at peace.

For Nate and Louisa, Australia is also harsher than they expected and it’s a trek from Melbourne, to the town of Everton where Nate will be overseeing everything as the new man in charge. Chance leads them to Molly Johnson’s door and they beg some kindness from her, although something about the area raises Nate’s suspicions. He’s thrown into the deep end at work too when a prominent family are murdered, a black man accused. There’s a manhunt and Nate is pulled in many different directions: his wife and child’s safety and wellbeing, the local men brawling at the sales, the murders, the manhunt, searching out Joe Johnson. There’s a lot going on.

This book took a lot of unexpected turns, particularly after the character of Yadaka shows up at Molly’s cottage. Yadaka challenges a lot of Molly’s beliefs – her beliefs about Indigenous people and then, even her beliefs about herself. He is well spoken and gentle even though he’s wanted for violent murders. On her own and about to give birth, Molly is forced to rely on him and she knows she cannot defend herself against him, should the need arrive. But Yadaka never gives her need of that, he is helpful and just wants a place to heal. In Molly, he gets answers to questions he’s always known and gives Molly information that  eventually, once she has processed it, helps her make sense of many things.

I found the ending quite moving……and not disappointing, but deflating I suppose, that it had to be that way. But Molly’s love for her children stood out above all else and there was nothing she wouldn’t do, to protect them and help them but her helplessness in all other aspects of her life, as a woman, was highlighted and cost her dearly. Even though she was a capable, strong, independent woman, at this time in history, that didn’t matter. Everything was stacked against her.

I’ll be interested in seeing the movie of this when it is released.

7/10

Book #135 of 2020

The Drover’s Wife is book #45 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: Brazen And The Beast by Sarah MacLean

Brazen And The Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards #2)
Sarah MacLean
Avon Books
2019, 438p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The Lady’s Plan

When Lady Henrietta Sedley declares her twenty-ninth year her own, she has plans to inherit her father’s business, to make her own fortune, and to live her own life. But first, she intends to experience a taste of the pleasure she’ll forgo as a confirmed spinster. Everything is going perfectly… until she discovers the most beautiful man she’s ever seen tied up in her carriage and threatening to ruin the Year of Hattie before it’s even begun.

The Bastard’s Proposal

When he wakes in a carriage at Hattie’s feet, Whit, a king of Covent Garden known to all the world as Beast, can’t help but wonder about the strange woman who frees him—especially when he discovers she’s headed for a night of pleasure… on his turf. He is more than happy to offer Hattie all she desires… for a price.

An Unexpected Passion

Soon, Hattie and Whit find themselves rivals in business and pleasure. She won’t give up her plans; he won’t give up his power… and neither of them sees that if they’re not careful, they’ll have no choice but to give up everything… including their hearts.

I really enjoyed the first in this series, Wicked And The Wallflower but upon reading that, it was what was going to be the third book that interested me the most and this was just a book that should be read in order to get to the third one.

The series centres around a group of siblings – several born on the same day, bastard sons of a Duke and a girl claimed to be legitimate, but the wrong sex. The siblings were pitted against each other (the males, obviously) so that the Duke could choose who would be his heir. When it was all over, one was the winner, the other three were running literally, for their lives.

Years later, and the three that ran rule Convent Garden. The first book revolved around Devil and how he came to find happiness and this one deals with the one called Beast. When Lady Henrietta finds him unconscious in her carriage, it puts a spanner in the plans she has put together so carefully and she can’t have it. She must go ahead despite this inconvenience and when Beast wakes, vowing revenge on the ones who got the jump on him, Henrietta turfs him out of her carriage. But Beast doesn’t let anything go and he knows Henrietta will lead him to the answers he wants. He chases her down….and they make a bargain of sorts.

This was an up and down read. I thought the beginning was intriguing, particularly as Beast was down and out, having been hit from behind and bested. The ‘Bareknuckle Bastards’ don’t let anything go though and when Lady Henrietta figures out why he’s there, she knows she has to protect the (somewhat undeserving) culprit. Lady Henrietta was born common, her father was given an Earldom through services to shipping which will not be passed down and will only be for the duration of his lifetime. Having failed to make a match during her Seasons, she wants more from life. She wants to prove to her father that despite being the wrong sex, she can run his highly successful shipping business, that she has the intelligence and wherewithal to do so. Her father remains unconvinced, purely because of the fact that she’s not a son.

Where the book kind of lost me was the bargain between Beast and Henrietta, which, after he betrays her, she intends to keep part of….presumably because it fits into her plans to rid herself of something, but it makes very little sense plot-wise, after what Beast has done. She’s not privy to the why he has done it, so she sees it as the ultimate betrayal, which makes all of the interactions afterwards fall somewhat short for me, until it’s revealed why Beast did what he did, because of his saviour complex. Whilst there was a lot to like here in terms of Lady Henrietta’s background, her intelligence, her determination, her self belief, her want for something more than the life mapped out for someone who had the advantage of wealthy father who had been granted a title, there was also some times when the story went in circles and repeated some of the instances of the first book, probably deliberately (Devil even remarks that Beasts sits, in the same situation Devil himself was in earlier) and it just feels done before.

My excitement about the third book is in a state of confusion. I enjoy an anti-hero who needs redemption, especially if it’s a man tortured by love but the Duke seems like such a complete tosser who actively tried to murder people in this book and it makes me wonder how he can be redeemed or why anyone would love him. I’m sure MacLean will weave in tragic backstory using scraps of what we already know but given what both Devil and his scar as well as Beast, have experienced, as well as the one they saved and kept hidden all these years, how on earth this could become a situation that anyone could accept is a mystery. I feel as though a line needs to be drawn somewhere and ‘man who attempts to murder his own siblings as well as the one he claims to love unreservedly’ might well be it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book where the hero needs to grovel more than this one. We shall see.

7/10

Book #127 of 2020

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Review: Truganini by Cassandra Pybus

Truganini
Cassandra Pybus
Allen & Unwin
2020, 336
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cassandra Pybus’ ancestors told a story of an old Aboriginal woman who would wander across their farm on Bruny Island, just off the coast of south-east Tasmania, throughout the 1850s and 1860s. As a child, Cassandra didn’t know this woman was Truganini, and that she was walking over the country of her clan, the Nuenonne, of whom she was the last.

The name of Truganini is vaguely familiar to most Australians as ‘the last of her race’. She has become an international icon for a monumental tragedy: the extinction of the original people of Tasmania within her lifetime. For nearly seven decades she lived through a psychological and cultural shift more extreme than most human imaginations could conjure. She is a hugely significant figure in Australian history and we should know about how she lived, not simply that she died. Her life was much more than a regrettable tragedy. Now Cassandra has examined the original eyewitness accounts to write Truganini’s extraordinary story.

A lively, intelligent, sensual young woman, Truganini managed to survive the devastating decade of the 1820s when the clans of south-eastern Tasmania were all but extinguished. Taken away from Bruny Island in 1830, she spent five years on a journey around Tasmania, across rugged highland and through barely penetrable forests, with the self-styled missionary George Augustus Robinson, who was collecting all the surviving people to send them into exile on Flinders Island. She managed to avoid a long incarceration on Flinders Island when Robinson took her to Victoria where she was implicated in the murder of two white men. Acquitted of murder, she was returned to Tasmania where she lived for another thirty-five years. Her story is both inspiring and heart-wrenching, and it is told in full in this book for the first time.

I can’t remember when I first read about Truganini, but it was definitely not as early in life as it should have been. I definitely did not learn about her at school, and it seems like she is someone I should have learned about. I knew that after “colonisation” by the British, when they pushed through to Tasmania (and named it Van Dieman’s Land) that the indigenous population was eventually exterminated. This book, focusing on Truganini’s life journey specifically, also deals with the methods and plans used by colonisers to round up the local Indigenous population and herd them to a point where they would be easily captured. There were plans to remove them to remote islands off the coast of Tasmania, some were also taken to the mainland (including Truganini).

Cassandra Pybus is a descendant of a coloniser who was given a large patch of land on Bruny Island, on Tasmania’s east coast. Abutting that ancestor’s land was another patch of land given to. a man named George Augustus Robinson, who later became some sort of self appointed (and then officially appointed) protector of the Indigenous population and was responsible for basically tracking them down and making sure that it was possible to implement the plans to remove them from the island, where they had upset those given farming patches of land by travelling around and occasionally stealing a sheep. Pybus was determined to only use primary sources to tell this story, mostly Robinson’s diaries as it seems he was a prolific diarist, who often detailed his many interactions and dealings in the guise of “protecting” these people. He’s seen as pompous and self-important.

I knew that this would contain some pretty brutal acts and I was right. There’s plenty in here of the callous disregard for the Tasmanian Indigenous population, the systematic attempts to round them up and drive them from the land they had occupied for thousands of years. There are children taken to be raised as slaves for wealthy (or probably even non-wealthy) colonisers, there are plenty of them engaged and then shot, the women and young female children stolen and the men beaten in midnight raids, the bribing of women for sexual favours with rations like sugar. The sealer men not only take the women, beat them, rape them, keep them as slaves but then they also relentlessly hunted the seal population of Tasmania almost to extinction, which is shown in stark contrast of the Aboriginal way of harvesting the bounty of the seas. Truganini witnesses her mother and sister taken and is not long after dependent on Robinson, who uses her and her father to help him round up other tribes, seemingly under the guise of ‘helping them’. They are often left stranded on rocky barren islands with little in the way of food. Disease and illness becomes rife amount the tribes, especially when they are removed from their local lands. The connection between Indigenous people and the land is something I don’t think we can understand and it’s commented on often about how they sicken and die very soon after being removed to somewhere else. The white people also introduced fun things like syphilis to the local population, shared with the women when they are raped or taken as slaves and if they escape, then they bring it back to the local menfolk. Robinson is also advised to do things like bribe them with alcohol.

Pybus’ decision to only use primary sources (those who saw and spoke to Truganini and then recorded it) is admirable but it also removes her from her own story and also removes her people. All of the views that Pybus is forced to use, are by white people, early settlers who saw the local population a certain way. Even people like Robinson, who believe themselves to be magnanimous and helpful, who don’t believe they are hurting them, are still trying to buttonhole them into a new way of being. Turning them into ‘good, Christian people’, forcing them to dress conservatively, to adhere to strict Christian values around sex and renounce their beliefs to worship a God in the sky and fear a Devil underground. At best they would’ve been possibly well treated servants, in this new settlement, but even that was unlikely in many cases. Pybus tries to insert some of Truganini’s character into the story, such as when she leads Robinson and his crew in circles when she’s supposed to be tracking someone down but it’s difficult to really get a picture of her, as she’s always seen through Robinson’s eyes, or those of someone like him. And Robinson loses interest in his role of protector at some stage anyway, and can’t wait to be rid of them be it marooning them on Flinders Island or taking them to the mainland and basically pushing them into a community there, overseen by someone else, so that he may wipe his hands of the whole affair.

I feel the story of Truganini and those like her, her tribe, the tribes she knew and had relationships with, is an important story and it’s one that everyone should know. But at the same time, I’m still very much aware that even this story of her, is told from a perspective that is not her own or even that of one of her kin. That their stories were not recorded and that so much of our history is taught from the words of those that oppressed them, removed them from their lands, even murdered them, is an undeniable truth.

8/10

Book #126 of 2020

This book qualifies for all 3 of the challenges I am undertaking this year!

It is book #42 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

Truganini is the 7th book completed for my participation in the 2020 NonFiction Reader Challenge. I’m using it to check off the History category.

1. Memoir

2. Disaster Event

3. Social Science

4. Related to an Occupation

5. History

6. Feminism

7. Psychology

8. Medical Issue

9. Nature

10. True Crime

11. Science

12. Published in 2020

I’m also counting it towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I am using it for prompt #15 – A Biography. It’s the 13th book completed for the challenge. Halfway there!

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Review: Love By The Book by Melissa Pimentel

Love By The Book 
Melissa Pimentel
Penguin Books
2015, 336p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

An American living in London, Lauren is intelligent, beautiful and loves to party. So why can’t she convince a man she isn’t after something more serious than scrambled eggs and goodbye in the morning?

Determined to snare some regular male affection, she embarks on a project: each month she will follow the rules of a different dating guide – from refusing to pay the bill to chatting up every man in her path – and will switch seamlessly to the next book at the end of each month.

Lauren’s love life is about to get scientific . .

I’m reading a lot of books lately which sound excellent but there’s always been something I find a bit lacking in the execution and this one was another one where I enjoyed parts of it…..but found other parts not quite so palatable.

Lauren is from Portland, Maine but fled to London and works as an event coordinator for a science museum. She is tired of guys ghosting her and dud dates so she decides to spend a month utilising a ‘method’ of dating from several quite famous books on the subject. Some are even Victorian-era, so filled with concepts outdated in the 21st century but that doesn’t stop Lauren from trying to adapt them to more modern times.

Some parts of this were quite entertaining – Lauren isn’t afraid to make a bit of an idiot out of herself in order to fulfil the requirements of whatever “method” she is following that month although she also throws other people under the bus sometimes too, which wasn’t as fun. There are some interactions with men that are quite amusing but….I also found a lot of it quite exhausting. Lauren is almost 30, which is not exactly over the hill and still young enough to enjoy going out and partying etc but the idea of endlessly going to bars and restaurants and parties for the sole purpose of trying to meet someone did occasionally feel a bit dizzying. Depending on which rules she’s following, some of the interactions/dates are really brief too, so there are many cases where it hardly seems worth it.

I know that in this book, Lauren has to “kiss a lot of frogs to find her prince” type thing but there’s a whole run of guys that are just basically….lost causes. Just zero point of them. From Adrian the commitment phobic journalist to the 42yo bike mechanic none of them seem in any way a decent prospect – not for anything. Not for a relationship (which Lauren claims not to want) and not even for a regular, reliable shag. They are constantly ghosting her, cancelling on her, etc. And whilst Adrian is perhaps the most amusing (because he’s such a douche) he’s also the one she seems to have the hardest time letting go of and….why? What was it about him that had her unable to cut him off, because he was a complete moron. But yet time and time again he’d bob up (when she stopped paying attention to him) and she’d be sucked right back in. It was a bit stupid.

There’s a character introduced that I really liked, that actually seems a potential option for Lauren, and they have some really interesting conversations and interactions. However their role in the book is really quite brief, which was a bit disappointing, when there’s endless pages devoted to some of the other men she’s determined to date or practice her rules on. And look, you could argue that this person plays a smaller role because Lauren isn’t intending to date them, so she doesn’t think to practice the methods of each book on them – also because they express such disdain for it that it would be pointless. But I think that it would’ve been nice to actually see a bit more from them towards the end, at least a date maybe….considering all the other dates I had to wade through Lauren going on.

There’s a bit of a long-running thread throughout the book of why Lauren left Portland and her hometown and it takes quite a while for it to be revealed and I was expecting something quite dramatic, however it didn’t really feel that way in the end. It was a bit anticlimactic really and didn’t at all live up to the thoughts I’d come up with on why she’d chosen to basically run as far away as she could.

This was published in 2015 and presumably set around then too and Lauren does use Tinder as one of her “methods” of meeting people and going on dates. But there were things that made it feel somewhat older, most notably that Lauren and pretty much everyone else smoke cigarettes almost constantly, which you rarely, if ever, see in books these days. I actually see it so rarely in books that are set in the 2000s that I actually had to check.

This was okay – there were several pretty amusing parts and I really did like the only character that I saw as a genuine option for Lauren, long term. I just wish they’d devoted a bit more time to it rather than dedicating a lot of time to everything else and presenting that person as an option only in the last chapter or so.

6/10

Book #121 of 2020

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Review: The Spanish Promise by Karen Swan

The Spanish Promise
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan UK
2019, 384p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Charlotte, a wealth counsellor who knows from personal experience the complications that a sudden inheritance can bring, helps her clients navigate the emotional side effects of sudden wealth syndrome. When she is asked by Mateo Mendoza, heir to a huge Spanish estate, to fly to Madrid to help resolve an issue in his father’s will, she’s confident it will be straightforward. The timing isn’t great as Charlotte’s due to get married the following week, but once her client signs on the dotted line, Charlotte can return to her life in London and her wedding, and live happily ever after. Marrying Stephen might not fill her with excitement, but she doesn’t want to live in the fast lane anymore – safe and predictable is good.

But Carlos Mendoza’s final bequest opens up a generation of secrets, and Charlotte finds herself compelled to unravel the mystery. As Charlotte digs deeper, she uncovers the story of a family divided by Spain’s Civil War, and of a love affair across the battle lines that ended in tragedy.

And while she is consumed in the drama of the Mendozas, Charlotte’s own tragic past catches up with her, threatening to overturn everything in her life she’s worked so hard to build.

I continued reading my way through Karen Swan’s backlist and had chosen another summer inspired setting, with a lot of this taking place in Madrid and Andalusia. However, this was unfortunately, my least favourite so far and I actually found myself really struggling to stay connected to either of the stories in this one.

In the present day, Charlotte works as a ‘wealth counsellor’, helping people manage the emotional stresses that wealth, especially sudden or unexpected wealth can bring. She often works with a bank helping their clients and is called in when that bank gets word that one of their biggest clients, an ailing man in his 90s in Spain, plans to give away almost all of his fortune, totalling some 750m pounds. This would devastate the bank and his family, especially his son, are none the wiser for why he would be giving his entire fortune away. Whilst the lawyers will try to combat in one way, Charlotte is being brought in to speak directly with the intended recipient, to make her realise the enormity of what could be coming her way and attempt to manage her down.

Charlotte grew up wealthy and seems to have experienced some of the issues that come from never being refused anything, never having anything be a struggle. However the way in which this is imparted is at times, convoluted and vague. I didn’t really enjoy her as a character and for the first time, I didn’t enjoy the romance either. I actually thought Charlotte and the person that was eventual endgame were incredibly toxic to one another and had inflicted numerous amounts of pain and suffering on each other (particularly by Charlotte towards the person) and he’s incredibly resentful of it and seems to want to hurt her in the present day when they are thrown back into each other’s company. I honestly couldn’t see them functioning as a healthy couple and didn’t enjoy any of their interactions together. In the flashbacks, Charlotte is shallow and teasing, in the present day he is snarly and bitter. Charlotte is also engaged to be married as well (actually she’s supposed to be getting married in like a week) but her utter disinterest and disengagement from her wedding was really strange, yet she couldn’t see that her behaviour was a bit unusual. She had no excitement, no real interest in anything to do with the wedding, she was clearly going through the motions and was making a conscious decision to marry this person to potentially avoid the pitfalls that had befallen someone she knew but there’s not enough about her background to really flesh this out in the proper manner. Also some really crucial stuff happens off the page and that’s never a favourite of mine.

The historical section also dragged in places for me. It started off quite interesting – Spain in the 1930s was a very tumultuous time. The country was heading towards a civil war that eventually took place from 1936-39. The first few scenes introducing the Mendoza family from almost 100 years ago were enjoyable but as I got deeper into the book, I got less interested and pretty soon I was just skimming a lot of those sections and getting back to the modern day plot, even though I wasn’t particularly enamoured with that either. I just found that I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery of why 98 year old Carlos Mendoza was giving away his hundreds of millions of pounds and how it was going to be resolved. I enjoyed the Spanish setting and thought that was rendered well, in both timelines though.

I think it stands to reason that when you read a lot of books by the one author, you will find at least one that isn’t your personal cup of tea. And that’s definitely happened with this book. I normally appreciate the jobs and characters and romances that are a little unusual but in this case, it just seemed like nothing really worked for me. Charlotte was bland in the present, vacuous socialite in the past, her attitude towards her marriage was bizarre and her past was definitely not explored enough for me, particularly the stuff with her father. The romance felt like it had more problems than it would solve, which is the first time I’ve felt this way. And the historical stuff didn’t keep me interested.

5/10

Book #119 of 2020

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Review: My Best Friend’s Royal Wedding by Romy Sommer

My Best Friend’s Royal Wedding
Romy Sommer
Harper Impulse
2020, 400p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cocktail waitress Khara Thomas never expected to trade the dazzling lights of Vegas for European aristocracy but as maid of honour in the royal wedding of the decade she’s forced into an unexpected spotlight when her best friend marries a prince.

Luckily for Khara, gorgeous but infuriating best man Adam Hatton is happy to show her the ropes. Khara knows Adam’s entitled rich guy type but as their connection grows she realises there’s more to this playboy than meets the eye. And when she learns his royal secret? She might just find that fairytales do come true…

I didn’t realise until I was well into this book that it’s actually part of a series and there’s a trilogy before it, one of which deals with Khara’s best friend Phoenix and how she met and ends up marrying the Archduke of some (made up) tiny European nation. You don’t really need to have read those in order to read this although the couples from two other books also show up at Max and Phoenix’s wedding. But this is Khara’s story of meeting Adam, who is also titled….and also entitled.

Khara and Adam originally meet when he’s part of a high-roller party at the Las Vegas casino where she works and when they meet again for Max and Phoenix’s wedding (Adam is to be the best man and Khara the maid of honour) he doesn’t remember her. Because she was just the person who was serving him once and Adam doesn’t notice people like servers, having been brought up in a position of extreme wealth and privilege. It’s not exactly love at first sight – although Adam finds her hot and wouldn’t mind, he’s frequently rebuffed by Khara who has better things to do with her time than sleep with entitled douche lords. However when Adam offers to help Khara feel more at home in the wealthy settings where there are rules, so that she won’t embarrass herself at the wedding, it leads to her seeing more potential in Adam, who was not supposed to be the heir of the tiny (also made up) European nation his mother hails from but now has that offer on the table.

This was….okay. It was interesting in the way it explored what it might be like to be raised in such wealth and privilege that it’s almost impossible for you to see what life for normal people is like. Adam wasn’t at all likeable for most of the book – he’s a bored playboy, sleeping with as many women as he can, accompanying his wastrel cousin around the world and eschewing anything remotely resembling responsibility. By contrast, Khara was raised by a single mother often without work, living in a trailer in Las Vegas. She has a huge chip on her shoulder regarding Adam’s wealth and privilege and they clash quite constantly for quite a lot of the book. Adam thinks she’s super hot and definitely wants to go there and although Khara also finds him attractive, she knows that she’d just be another notch on his rather overcrowded bedpost and also his personality is often quite garbage, plus she knows he doesn’t remember her from their previous encounter.

What I enjoyed about this was Khara digging deep into Adam to find parts of him that weren’t just playing up to an image, addressing the self-doubts he had, his reluctance to believe that he was worthy of or deserving of the role of heir to his country. He isn’t even likely to need to step in any time soon, as his uncle is still alive and well and probably only in his late 50s. She makes him think about how he might be able to enact change, how it might be to assume the role. I also liked that even though there’s an attraction between them, this is a slow burn in a way, with Khara constantly rebuffing his advances and turning him down for quite a lot of the novel which gives them a chance to actually get to know each other and learn things about the other and for Khara to see beneath his polished surface.

But. There was also a lot of the time where the interactions between Adam and Khara felt quite childish – a lot of bickering and arguing back and forth, Adam smirking and trying to hit on her and Khara thinking that he’s hot but…no. Not yet. Adam thinks he can impress people with his wealth and it seems like everyone he’s ever met in his entire life before has been impressed by his enormous…..wealth and all people care about is marrying him once it’s possible he might be the heir. It seemed unlikely that every single person in his “set” (most of whom are wealthy, privileged and sometimes even titled themselves) would be so impressed by Adam and his attitude towards money was quite obnoxious. At the other end of the scale was Khara who has inferiority issues from her poor background and who keeps saying that “people like her” don’t get to live the sort of life that Adam can offer, even after it’s quite obvious that he’s offering it. It gets a bit tiresome as it goes around and around for quite a while in this manner. Perhaps I’d have enjoyed the book about Max and Phoenix better, as they seemed a lot more likeable.

This was okay – a good enough read to pass the time. I’d be curious to read the three that came before this.

6/10

Book #120 of 2020

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Review: A Year At Castle Court by Holly Hepburn

A Year At Castle Court 
Holly Hepburn
Simon & Schuster UK
2018, 496p
Read via Borrow Box/my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Sadie is a single mum, nursing a broken heart. Her best friend from childhood, Cat, is burned out from working long hours as a chef in Paris. In need of a change, they decide to invest in their dream – running their own handmade biscuit shop in gorgeous Castle Court, a three-storey food court tucked away behind Chester’s bustling streets.
 
They soon discover that Castle Court has its own community – a little haven of delight against the stresses of the outside world. But not everyone welcomes the new business; the patisserie owner is less than pleased by what she sees as direct competition and Greg, who runs the fancy bistro that dominates one end of the courtyard, doesn’t think Sadie and Cat have the talent or business acumen to succeed. Luckily, there’s support in the form of the delectable Jaren, who owns the Dutch waffle house opposite Smart Cookies, and Swiss chocolate-shop owner, Elin. And if all else fails, the friends can drown their sorrows in Seb’s cocktail bar on the third floor!

Recently I read a Holly Hepburn book that turned out to be just the first part. This book is definitely similar – it’s split into four equal parts comprising the seasons of the first year that Sadie and Cat open their biscuit business but this time I got in after it had all been published and managed to get the entire book, rather than just a part of it thankfully!

Sadie is recently single, having discovered husband Dan was having an affair with a work colleague. She’s now juggling being a single mother with opening a new business, an artisan biscuit shop with Cat, her best friend since school. Cat is a chef, who was even head chef at a fancy Paris restaurant but is now back in Britain. She bakes the biscuits and Sadie ices them with her flair for design. The court where they have leased a shop seems perfect – there are other similar businesses such as restaurants and chocolate shops, bakeries and a trendy bar. It’s the sort of place where people will gravitate if they are looking for good food and something to treat themselves as well. They are quickly introduced to some of the local shop owners or business managers and most welcome them with friendly smiles and open arms. However there are two people seem distinctly unhappy about their arrival in the court, which does put a small dampener on things.

I loved a lot about this! I absolutely adored the idea of the business – who doesn’t love biscuits (cookies, for all you Americans out there!). They do amazing shapes and beautifully decorated ones as well as running classes for both children and adults. They do a lot with festive themes, such as biscuits for Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, New Year, etc. It isn’t long before they need to hire new staff, which brings Adam, a local beekeeper and farmer, closer to Sadie, although she faces confusion when it seems like ex-husband Dan turns over a new leaf and suddenly starts taking on his share of the childcare and offering to help by cooking meals when she’s busy, something he certainly never did when they were married. Being a single mother of a five year old and working full time presents a lot of challenges and Dan isn’t afraid to use that against Sadie when he decides that he wants to repair their marriage. It leaves Sadie very conflicted, because Dan hurt her deeply and she’s out there, doing something for herself, providing for her daughter….but at the same time, her daughter loves her father obviously and it’s hard to be shunted between two homes. Sadie wants to do the right thing by her….but sometimes, she forgets to consider her own happiness and sense of fulfilment as well, which is equally important.

I really enjoyed Castle Court – so many of the local business owners are so fun and welcoming and they form quite a tight knit group, apart from the one antagonist who really wants to ruin things and isn’t afraid to badmouth them to everyone he knows. But the rest of them are so supportive of each other, which really comes to the forefront when the biscuit store faces a hardship due to an unforeseeable incident. They all rally together in the best of ways to help Cat and Sadie. I especially loved the men who run the American truck stop-style diner.

The romantic entanglements get a bit complicated part way through the book, when two characters made decisions that I didn’t really expect and that plays out for a little while before things started to go in the direction I expected at the beginning of the story. I think there was probably a little unnecessary romantic drama, particularly around Cat which at times detracted from the other parts of the story for me. And likewise, the drama from Cat’s previous job definitely played a much bigger part of the story than I thought it would and got to levels of seriousness that were surprising and then kind of….dissolved.

This was fun. I’d definitely read more Holly Hepburn – but only after the whole story has been published.

7/10

Book #110 of 2020

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Review: Red At The Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Red At The Bone 
Jacqueline Woodson
Riverhead Books
2019, 196p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

Before my library closed indefinitely in March, I picked up a bunch of hold requests, which, some months later, I hauled out from under my desk. As COVID-19 advanced, I sought out a lot of what I’d term “lighter” reads, with more gentler topics, less chance of being distressed. There was only so much negativity I could take in real life, reading couldn’t contribute to that. As we move out of restrictions and record fewer and fewer cases, I’ve been slowly adding those books with potentially heavier or more distressing topics, back in (I’ve ordered a bunch that I’ll term “really heavy” but more about those in another post). Apparently a lot of my requests were longlist books for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (one of my ‘read the longlist whims’) and this is one of them.

This is a short book in length but huge in characterisation. The way that Woodson is able to impart so much on a character with so few words, is admirable. And not just one character, but many.

It begins with Melody, 16 in the year 2001 standing in the dress her own mother should’ve worn for her coming of age ceremony, sixteen years before. Melody reflects on her relationships with all the important people in her life – her mother, her father, her grandparents, her best friend. It’s not just Melody’s story. The narrative also encompasses her mother Iris, who discovered she was pregnant with Melody at just fifteen, Melody’s father Aubrey who grew up poor with a single mother and Melody’s maternal grandparents, who both had very different reactions to Iris’ pregnancy. It details Iris leaving Melody with Aubrey and her parents so that she might attend college, as well as what she realises about herself while she is there. And it also explores the relationship of Melody’s grandparents, how they met and married. Melody’s maternal grandmother Sabe is from Tulsa, so the book includes the Tulsa race riots which led to the family moving to Chicago and then after marriage, to New York where they reside in a brownstone. Aubrey moved in after Iris fell pregnant and remained there, caring for Melody along with his non-official in-laws, when Iris went to college on the other side of the country.

The writing in this is a masterpiece. I knew almost nothing about it going in and the story – or really, stories as each one is almost individual as much as it winds through and around the others – gripped me in so many ways. It says a lot but with using few words – such as the account of September 11. Iris and Melody both grew up in the same Brooklyn brownstone, enjoying many more privileges than Aubrey did as a child, moving from city to city with his single mother.

I’ve only heard of the Tulsa race riots recently, in terms of them being raised throughout the Black Lives Matter movement, by a viral video of a girl answering the question of why black people were destroying their neighbourhoods and property. She states plainly that they don’t own it – and that when they did own property, when they made successes of themselves in Tulsa, there were white supremacist riots and massacres there and so I’ve done a bit of reading but I still have a lot to do. I always appreciate fiction books that weave in factual history which leads me down a rabbit hole of non-fiction reading, as a way to broaden knowledge. This year I have been trying to read a lot more non-fiction and often use the fiction books I read to choose subjects to explore further in non-fiction.

This is the first book I’ve read by Jacqueline Woodson and I’ve made exploring the rest of her (quite extensive) backlist a priority because I really appreciated the way that she uses words and tells her story.

8/10

Book #111 of 2020

I’m counting this book towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I can tick off prompt #24 – From the 2019 Reading Women Award Shortlists, which this book was included on.

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Review: The Greek Escape by Karen Swan

The Greek Escape
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan
2018, 432p
Read from my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Running from heartbreak, Chloe Marston leaves her old life in London for a fresh start in New York. Working at a luxury concierge company, she makes other people’s lives run perfectly, even if her own has ground to a halt. But a terrible accident forces her to step into a new role, up close and personal with the company’s most esteemed and powerful clients. Charismatic Joe Lincoln is one of them and his every wish is her command, so when he asks her to find him a secluded holiday home in the Greek Islands, she sets about sourcing the perfect retreat.

But when Tom, her ex, unexpectedly shows up in Manhattan and the stability of her new life is thrown off-balance again, Chloe jumps at the chance to help Joe inspect the holiday house. Escaping to Greece will give her the time and space to decide where her future truly lies. Tom is the man she has loved for so long but he has hurt her before – can she give him another chance? And as she draws closer to Joe, does she even want to? As magnetic as he is mysterious, there’s an undeniable chemistry between them that she can’t resist.

But whatever her heart is telling her, she’s in over her head—another client’s wife has mysteriously disappeared and seriously allegations about Joe threaten more than just her happiness. Who can she trust? And will Chloe uncover the truth in time?

Or, how the other half live.

Chloe works for a company that basically helps rich people source whatever they want, whenever they want. When money is no object, nothing is off limits. If they need penguins for a birthday party happening in two hours? Done. A luxurious holiday retreat in a place that’s booked out for years? No problem. Although Chloe doesn’t usually deal with clients, an injury to one of her colleagues means that she has to take over her five very high profile, very VIP clients. These clients have built up a close rapport with Poppy and Chloe knows that some of them won’t take too kindly to her stepping in. She has to learn everything about them – their private lives, residences, cars, jobs, preferences right down to their favourite drink and what flower they claim to be allergic to. She’s thrown when Joe Lincoln arrives at the offices, saying that Poppy offered him representation. She only keeps her client list very small – five at a time and it’s surprising to Chloe that she’d offer to take another one. However Joe is relatively low maintenance. He only wants Chloe to find him to perfect Greek Island retreat. Must be very secluded, difficult to access. Money is no object, of course.

Chloe is English and originally worked for the London office but after a disastrous heartbreak, she fled across the Atlantic to the New York office. When her personal problems follow her, it seems a good idea to take a more hands on approach with Joe, lining up several properties for the two of them to inspect together. She finds him refreshing at first, different to the other more demanding clients that she’s been dealing with. But the more time she spends with Joe, the more something starts to not add up – and Chloe starts to wonder just precisely who he is.

The last Karen Swan book I read was set in Norway at Christmas time with a beautiful remote, snowy atmosphere. This one is the opposite – it’s summer in New York and Chloe has ideas of weekends in the Hamptons with her friends which are cut short when her colleague Poppy as a terrible accident and Chloe must fill in for her. However she does also get a trip to the Greek Islands as part of her job, sourcing a remote house for the mysterious Joe, staying on a luxury yacht. This one has hot summer vibes that make me envious. It’s winter here now and even though it’s not ‘that cold’ yet, it’s honestly, quite cold enough for me. I’d much rather be jumping off the side of a multi-million dollar yacht into turquoise seas.

There is quite a lot going on in this – as well as Chloe assuming a new role after her colleague is hurt, she’s also dealing with a lot of personal stuff as well. It takes quite a bit for everything in her past to come out and when it does, it adds a lot to the drama of the story. Then there’s also a sinister undertone to Poppy’s accident, which preoccupies Chloe’s thoughts as she struggles to balance a lot of plates spinning in the air with her particularly demanding clients. Poppy’s job sounds like something out of nightmares, to be honest. Some of the clients are well-meaning, just used to money opening whatever doors they want. Some are irritating and self involved but some are also downright sinister. Chloe definitely has to practice the art of discretion as it’s what some of these people value more than anything else.

This went in so many interesting directions, both with Joe and also with Tom and the business and other ways as well. There was a lot of twists and turns in the plot, some of which I had a bit of an inkling about before it was revealed but there were definitely some that surprised me. I enjoyed this and it’s further cemented Karen Swan as someone whose backlist I must continue to work my way through as quickly as possible!

7/10

Book #106 of 2020

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Review: The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

The Christmas Lights 
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan UK
2018, 480p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Bo lives a life most people can only dream of. She and her boyfriend Zac are paid to travel the globe, sharing their adventures with their online followers. And when Zac proposes, Bo’s happiness is complete.

With Christmas coming up, Bo can’t wait to head to the snow-fringed fjords of Norway. Arriving at the picturesque and remote hillside farmhouse that will be their home for the next few weeks, Bo’s determined to enjoy a romantic Christmas under the Northern Lights. Everything should be perfect.

But the mountains hold secrets from the past and as temperatures plunge and tensions rise, Bo must face up to the fact that a life which looks perfect to the outside world may not be the life she should be living…

As I’ve been mentioning a bit on this blog lately, I’ve been looking for a certain type of read. I was browsing Borrow Box, one of the apps my local library uses for eBook lending and came across a Karen Swan book. Recently I read The Hidden Beach and loved it. And prior to that I read The Paris Secret and really loved that too. And the cover of this one really drew my attention. It’s set in Norway in the winter which sounds absolutely stunning. It’s coming into winter here and it’s definitely not the same as winter in Norway but it’s a good time to snuggle up under a blanket and read a book set in a place filled with snow and crisp air. Add in the northern lights……beautiful!

There’s another reason I chose this one to read too and that’s the occupation of the main character Bo and her boyfriend Zac. They are social media influencers who are paid to travel the world on what is basically a never-ending holiday, promoting locations and immersing themselves in the life and cultures of the places they visit. The reason that was relevant is recently I’ve been watching some people doing similar things on YouTube, albeit on a much smaller scale. Not paid as such, to promote places, but people who have jacked in their 9-5 jobs and are travelling the world mostly in camper/cargo vans they’ve converted themselves. I’ve watched a couple travel from mid-western USA down to the very southern tip of South America and I’ve found it really interesting. So I was keen to get a look ‘behind the scenes’ of such a lifestyle, although this one was in the top echelon of that sort of job. Bo and Zac have over 9 million subscribers and are aiming for 10 million by Christmas. They were both popular on social media separately before they met and became a couple and it’s since then that their popularity has really exploded. A lot of people are invested in them and their romance.

After a whirlwind trip in Samoa, it’s off to Norway to spend Christmas there on a remote farm with no vehicle accessibility. It’s usually only let in the summer months but Zac wants an “authentic” isolated winter experience so he’s convinced the proprietor, a woman in her 90s, to agree to rent them the farm. It’s truly rustic, without even an inside bathroom. Probably only a minor inconvenience during a Norwegian summer but truly testing in a Norwegian winter. Bo is aware of how glamorous their lives look to their followers – travelling the world, visiting incredible destinations and getting to experience incredible things. Zac’s preference is for ‘non-touristy’ things, going places locals go and finding hidden gems that there aren’t already a million photos of on Instagram. For this trip, they are also being paid by a clothing company to endorse their winter apparel and have someone from that company along for the ride, as well as Lenny, their photographer/manager who takes all their photos, makes their travel bookings and provides anything else they need.

For Bo, she’s beginning to struggle with it all. She’s tired of private moments with her boyfriend being spied on by Lenny and posted for the world to see. They don’t have a home – and Bo hasn’t been back to her family home in over four years, for reasons that will be revealed over the course of the book. When she meets Anders (the grandson of the woman who let them the farm) he doesn’t know who they are or what they do. And he’s not really interested either and Bo begins to see how being settled might not be the worst thing in the world. She and Zac are also struggling – he is very gung ho about the content and doesn’t back her up about things she wants kept private. He is already planning the next adventure whereas Bo is slowly becoming exhausted. She finds it relaxing to just be able to be still and breathe in Norway and when she falls ill, the pressure to not be constantly posting and checking in on her socials, is lifted.

This was just what I was looking for. I adored the setting – Norway in the winter sounds truly beautiful, and I say that from the safety and security of my heated house under a blanket in the southern hemisphere where it’s “never even that cold”. I would not be brave enough to stay on the farm in winter (no outhouses for me, thanks) but I think the idea of experiencing a snowed in season would be lovely! Just because it’s so different to what I know. I actually really liked Bo and the time taken to set up how she fell into the influencer life….and why she kept up with the whirlwind of constant travel, always switching hemispheres and seasons. She’s a bit of a passive person but she’s starting to find her voice, to speak up when she doesn’t want a picture put on social media or when she wants something kept private. The ever constant presence of Lenny, turning her relationship into something that contains a third person is very trying for her. She’s also dealing with the resurgence of an over zealous fan, someone who terrorised her some time ago and the went dormant, but is back with a vengeance, making her very nervous. She’s always careful never to post her location while she’s still there but others in her party don’t always have the same consideration and Bo is starting to feel a net closing in. Anders is a soothing presence for her, he’s very different to Zac and he seems…..settled within himself, even though she discovers a terrible incident from his past. Zac is an overgrown manchild who got more tedious as the book went on.

Woven in is also the story of Signe, Anders’ grandmother who owns the farm. There’s flashbacks to the summer of 1936 and Signe, her sister Margit and several of their friends tending her family’s herds in the hills on the summer farm, where they also cut grass to make hay for the winter months. I enjoyed these as well and how the events of that summer shaped Signe and the person she became. She and Bo developed quite a connection.

This is 3/3 books I’ve really enjoyed by Karen Swan now and I just want to binge her entire backlist. They seem divided into summer and winter books, so whatever I feel like, there’ll be something that fits the bill. And the best thing is….there’s still about 13 or so to read!

8/10

Book #103 of 2020

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